Three best bike racks

Bob Beacham

Most bike racks clamp the bike’ s top tube, but women’ s and children's bikes don't have one.

Some people can fit their bikes inside their vehicle, but it's never convenient. Many don't have room. Buying a good bike rack not only saves valuable space but it's also quicker and easier to load and unload. There are models to fit every kind of car and suit every budget, so your only real challenge is deciding which one best meets your needs.

We've put together the following bike rack buying guide to provide all the necessary advice and information. We've also added a few recommendations to illustrate the variety of styles and prices available.

Considerations when choosing bike racks

The number of bikes a rack can carry is obviously important, but the key consideration is how the rack will attach to your vehicle: trunk, hitch, or roof.

Trunk-mounted racks (these fit hatchbacks, too) are usually the least expensive. The supporting frame is held in place by adjustable straps, so they're easy to move from one vehicle to another. These racks are usually light enough for one person to manage. Prices range from $40 to $350.

They do have some disadvantages, however. Although rubber mounts protect the car's bodywork, a heavy rack can lead to the finish being marked or damaged. The fitting straps can be fiddly, so it's vital that you carefully check that they're secure. Bikes on a trunk-mounted rack can obstruct your rear view or obscure your license plate or taillights, which could result in you getting a ticket unless you mount alternatives. And it's difficult to access the trunk or rear of a vehicle with the bike rack in place.

Hitch-mounted racks are popular because they're usually quick and simple to fit. Good ones can swing out of the way, allowing easy access to the rear of the vehicle. They offer rapid loading and unloading, and there's little risk of marking your vehicle. Good hitch-mounted racks have devices that prevent the bikes from swinging back and forth. If your vehicle has low ground clearance, make sure the rack you're looking at holds the bike's wheels clear of the road. Prices range from $80 to $600.

There are disadvantages with hitch-mounted racks, too. As with trunk mounts, these racks, when loaded, can obscure your view, license plate, and rear lights. These racks can be heavy, and last but not least, you need a tow hitch!

Roof-mounted racks are used by pro cycling teams because they're very easy to unload quickly, and they're often inexpensive. Prices range from $40 to $270.

There are also disadvantages with roof-mounted racks. They add considerable height to your vehicle -- you don't want to forget your bikes are up there! Most of these bike racks need to mount to an existing roof rack. The racks hold a maximum of two bikes. And some require you to remove the bike's front wheel and may not take bikes with mudguards.

Truck bed racks are bike racks made specifically for pickup trucks. These are either similar to the frames you see on the street (but with securing devices), or they clamp the front wheel or forks (in which case the front wheel needs to be removed). Prices range from $30 to $250.

Bike rack features

There are a few other things to think about as you shop.

The mainframe materials should be corrosion resistant (aluminum, stainless steel) or have a protective powder coating (also called epoxy resin coating). The clamps that hold the bike frame must be flexible or padded so they don't mark or damage your bike, and the arms that hold the bikes should fold out of the way when not in use. Tool-free installation is a bonus. Tandem bikes can be difficult to accommodate, though adaptors may be available. And finally, check the warranty. "Limited lifetime" sounds great, but what are those limits?


Q. What's the maximum number of bikes I can carry on a rack?

A. Five-bike racks are the largest available. The ones we've seen are all hitch mounted. You need to be aware that there's also a load limit (maximum permitted weight). Usually, it's in the region of 150 to 175 pounds for all five bikes. That's not usually a problem if your bikes have aluminum frames, but if they're steel, you need to be careful. Overloading your vehicle is not only dangerous but also a traffic offense.

Q. Can I fit a trunk-mounted bike rack if I have a spoiler?

A. Most makers take into account factory-fitted spoilers, but there are so many aftermarket options available that it's impossible to cover every eventuality. Product photos can give you some idea of clearance, but you need to check carefully. The straps might damage or break a plastic spoiler.

Bike racks we recommend

Best of the best: Yakima Products RidgeBack Hitch Bike Rack 

Our take: Superbly made four-bike rack for those who demand the best.

What we like: Rapid installation on 1.25- and 2-inch hitches. Folding arms. Tilts to allow vehicle access. Anti-sway cradles. Lifetime warranty.

What we dislike: Heavy. Expensive (but worth it).

Best bang for your buck: Allen Sports Deluxe Hitch-Mounted Bike Rack

Our take: Well-made three-bike rack. Absolute bargain price.

What we like: Easy to mount. Fits 1.25- and 2-inch hitches. Arms fold when not in use. Tremendous value for money.

What we dislike: Low weight limit. Sways a bit (use extra bungees).

Choice 3: Thule Passage Trunk Mount Carrier 

Our take: High-quality two-bike carrier from well-respected brand.

What we like: Rubber cradles and anti-sway device mean bikes and vehicle are well protected. Rack section folds down when not in use. Lightweight.

What we dislike: Securing the straps properly is overly complex.

Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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